Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Tale of Two First Basemen: Freeman vs. Duda

Joe Pisapia is the author of the #1 best selling Fantasy Baseball Black Book 2015 Edition on the Kindle Store and iTunes for Apple Devices. He is also host of the Fantasy Black Book on Sirius/XM Fantasy and the Dear Mr. Fantasy Podcast.

First base has been a perennial power source for fantasy owners and 2015 is no exception. Yet, there are still question marks as you get past the elite players like Goldschmidt, Abreu and Anthony Rizzo who recently joined the top tier in this year's Fantasy Black Book 2015. Two first basemen that seem to have been polarizing early in draft prep season have been Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves and Lucas Duda of the New York Mets.
*Freddie Freeman photo
 By EricEnfermero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Freeman is only 25 years old this season. I mention this first because it seems like he’s been around for a long time and I think fantasy owners somehow are disappointed with him. It’s true that Freeman has yet to hit 25 HR and driven in 100 RBI only once in his first four seasons. The biggest reason I see for the regression of 2014 (just 18 HR and 78 RBI) lies in his 90 BB/145 K rate. Both were career highs and illustrate the fact that he took too many pitches and should be more aggressive if he is going to blossom into the middle of the order bat Atlanta envisions him being. His splits were relatively consistent, but just 5 HR after the break are not going to cut it from a corner spot for fantasy owners. The good news is Freeman has plenty of time to develop and grow as a hitter. The bad news is he now finds himself all alone in the middle of the Braves' order with little support.

30 HR and 92 RBI are nothing to sneeze at, especially in this era. However, Lucas Duda has some concerns going into 2015. He hit just .180 against lefties with a .252 SLG %. Those splits scream platoon player. Unlike say Matt Adams, Duda has a history of struggles against southpaws in his track record of development. His power was legit though. It did not fade down the stretch and it was equally visible at Citi Field (not historically hitter friendly) and on the road. He won’t hit for a high average and last year’s big power stats will inflate his value a bit in this year’s draft. As a CINF or DH/UT bat, I have few reservations about him. However, as an everyday first baseman he still has some holes in his game and there are no guarantees he can repeat. Also, you can be sure newly acquired Michael Cuddyer will see some starts versus tough lefties at first base cutting into Duda’s playing time. That's something to watch in H2H leagues when setting your lineup.
So who would you rather have? I find Freeman's ADP (#27 overall at Fantasy Pros) to be absurd. At a position that is supposed to supply power, how can we value a guy this highly who has never hit 25 homers? We can "project" him to grow into that, but considering his lack of supporting cast what gives us that notion that 30 HR are realistically obtainable in 2015?
*Lucas Duda photo By slgckgc on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational (Crop) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Duda on the other hand is being grossly undervalued at #166 overall. As someone who is particularly tough on him, even I can't imagine a player coming off a 30 HR/92 RBI season being this disrespected. His power comps are Albert Pujols and Todd Frazier in 2014, and although they have more track record should they be 80+ slots higher than Duda? I don't believe so.
In the end it always comes down to two things: value and format. In points leagues, I prefer Freeman who offers a better overall approach at the plate (not at his current ADP mind you, but still prefer him). In roto, the potential for 8-10 more home runs over a season is significant. In this power starved era of baseball that is a measurable advantage. Not to mention the discounted cost I can acquire them at according to early ADP.
I never believe in painting players with the same brush. In fact, I find that to be one of the leading causes of failure in fantasy sports. It's always about value and format. If you can maximize value in your draft and cater to the loopholes in each specific league format, you will always find success.
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